Indonesian researchers have just discovered the remnants of a torpedoed Nazi sub off the main island of Java just west of Indonesia. It's the first time a German submarine has been found in the area — a discovery that's giving historians new clues about what went on in the region during the war.
The sub, which could be either the U-168 or U-183, was discovered by a team of Indonesian archaeologists in the Java Sea after receiving information from local fisherman. The exact type of submarine is still not known because the hull number could not be found. It's thought that the sub was torpedoed late in the war.
But what the diving archaeologists did find was extraordinary, including tableware with Nazi insignias, batteries, binoculars, a bottle of hair oil — and 17 skeletons. The researchers are now hoping to get assistance from the German government to help identify the sub and, potentially, the names of her crew.
"This is the first time we have found a foreign submarine from the war in our waters," said Bambang Budi Utomo, head of the research team at the National Archaeology Centre that found the vessel. "This is an extraordinary find that will certainly provide useful information about what took place in the Java Sea during World War II."
So what was the sub doing there? There are some possible explanations.
First, Japan occupied Indonesia during World War II, which back then went by its colonial name, the Dutch East Indies. Seeing as Japan and Germany were allies, it's not completely unreasonable that Nazi wolfpacks would be patrolling the area.
Indeed, many German submarines were part of an effort to cut logistical supplies, including raw materials, from Asia to Britain — a force called the Monsun Gruppe, or Monsoon Group. These U-boats, operating out of Penang, patrolled the Pacific and Indian Oceans during World War II. Interestingly, the Indian Ocean was the only place where German and Japanese forces fought in the same theatre. In total, some 41 U-boats may have been involved in the region.
And as Spiegel Online reports, historians may be able to trace the sub back to archived reports:
The researchers believe the wreck is that of the U-168, which German naval forces used to successfully sink several allied ships. The U-boat was eventually torpedoed by a Dutch submarine while en route to Australia. According to a report by German newspaper Die Welt, the Dutch vessel fired six torpedoes from 900 meters, but only one of the explosives detonated. Twenty-three German sailors reportedly died in the attack, and the captain and 26 crew members survived.
The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that the wreck could also be that of the U-183, which was sunk on April 23, 1945 in the Java Sea. That attack had only one survivor of 55 men on board.
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